Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Toning the Canvas

I've finally followed Richard Schmid's advice and toned canvases with Turps instead of Odorless Mineral Spirits. Unless I'm painting a snow scene, heavy on the snow, I like to tone the canvas a predominant color. Others tone their canvas the complement of the predominant color and that is fine, especially for highly sunlit scenes. 

The image above is from an OMS toned canvas, toned olive the day before painting (!) which I like for scenes heavy with foliage. It takes forever to dry, like days. A La Prima: this makes it necessary to lay on think paint especially on light skies, since laying on thin paint mearly muddles the desired sky color if the toned canvas isn't completely dry. You can see I used thick sky color just laying it on, no swishing the brush.

By contrast, this image shows a canvas toned with turps wash of olive in the morning and painted over the same day. No muddling of the sky color: Titanium White and Manganese Blue. The Turps stinks to me, so I lay on the wash outdoors. It drys so fast there is no stink to the canvas. Voila!

PS In each case I wiped out the sky area after laying on the wash.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Everything I know about Painting – Not


After painting a dozen years with many workshops and classes, I was getting dissatisfied with my work, especially the lack of variety of landscape subjects, e.g. thin trees in winter, dense summer overlapping trees and brush.

I invested in a mentorship of eight afternoons with a painter whose work I admired and whose approach was looser than mine, another direction in which I wanted to go. This was 24 solid hours of one-on-one instruction, demos, and critiques: in short, anything he recommended discussing or demo-ing and anything I wanted to cover.

Warm Spell 8x10 Oil

So far, I found out that:

·         I needed to do more detailed, larger preliminary pencil thumbnails before painting and really “nail” the light and shadow of objects like trees clearly

·         I could actually use black paint and put some intense darks in my paintings, “up the ante” in terms of drama; one can also mix in red and other hues into the black to vary it slightly

·         “Use more paint” has always been my shortcoming and have someone remind me again was important

·         You can paint think over thin, but also thicker over thick and it works. I was able to lay on thick paint with all sides of the brush, e.g. thick and sometimes irregular sky holes; really load the brush and with a light touch dab it on thick; this allows painting darks over lights!

·         I also needed to be reminded to preserve my four value planes while introducing different hues of the same value in each plane; this preserves the big, dramatic shapes which capture the viewer’s eye

·         I tended to paint in a high key, i.e. warm palette, and never noticed it. When you are painting, especially a winter subject, this needs to be a conscious choice not unconscious or accidental

·         Painting from his reference photographs was a stretch for me but his keen eye for a composition made for some well-designed paintings

·         I wanted to make sure I did some homework and had at least two paintings done at home for the next afternoon session; this was by turns frustrating or rewarding, depending on if I had grasped his technique the previous session. No lazy days here.

·         Painting “under the gun” of an instructor in the studio imparts an urgency to most of us which usually results in poor drawing, proportions, inappropriate hues, etc. Better to take your sweet time; it’s results that matter, not speed.

·         Coming to the end of the mentorship I realize that old habits die hard, still not using enough paint, etc. but some progress made.

Many thanks to my knowledgeable and patient mentor Kevin Menck; see his excellent work at



Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Tweeking Photographs

Two weeks before Hurricane Sandy devastated the beaches of Central New Jersey, my wife and I vacationed at a B&B and the roamed the shore, mostly in rainy weather, but, hey, we were on vacation!
I took a number of photos on Long Beach Island, mostly uninhabited, but with a few public beaches. It was famous for teenagers who wanted to "make out". The variety of vegetation was impressive compared to the Great Lakes, but this is a warmer climate.

  This photo had plenty of potential but I wanted a stronger focal point and some eye travel. We were amazed at the flowers, not knowing if they bloomed all summer or were the result of the steady rainfall. We were accompanied by the gulls and a few isolated surf fishermen. In drawing thumbnails for a study, I enlarged the big dune on the left and eliminated the "X" shape of the plants and flowers in the right-center.  The result is this 8x16 oil study, which is worth a larger version sometime this winter.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

If at first you don't succeed....

Cave Lake Inlet 8x10 Oil/Panel
A friend and I packed our plein aire gear and drove to Carter Caves State Park, a delightful place to paint with natural arches, trails, rock formations, streams and, of course, caves. With the temperature at about 30 degrees I set up the easel, premixed piles of paint and proceeded to fail miserably. We attributed our difficulty to it being our first paint-out of the year, where we were overwhelmed by detail:  the rock formations were beyond difficult with a multitude of subtle colors, layer upon layer of limestone and a rapidly moving sun with its long winter shadows.   
We took plenty of photos and, back in the studio, gave ourselves the time and patience to sort through the scenes for subjects. Cave Lake is a small lake surrounded on three sides by marsh grasses, with crystal clear water.  The bare trees were backlit by the strong sun and had to be painted wet over dry.
We vowed to return later in spring and take advantage of the simpler views and trails. No day spent painting is wasted even when you paint "wipe-offs". We've already selected our sites for the next visit and there is just something always energizing about fresh air, rock and sky. We both slept well that night.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Into the Fields

Bottomland (Study) 8x10 Oil/Panel

October is my favorite month, the farmland which has been restored to native plants and grasses, or left to grow and go to seed, provides so many opportunities to play with hues and values. This painting was done plein aire a few weeks ago before the trees began to change in earnest. The hardwoods are now at their peak, in-your-face, hot colors. This land is on a farm bordering Elkhorn Creek in Franklin County, Kentucky. The composition emphasizes the fields by limiting the range of colors and values in the distant trees and using a very high horizon. Our Plein Aire group stood in a firebrake of mowed tick-free path and painted all morning in 70-degree weather then stopped at a members nearby house for a homemade, organic lunch. It just doesn't get much better than this.


Friday, July 20, 2012


Switzer Bridge Study 8x10 Oil

Covered Bridges have been done over and over; even revered painter Richard Schmid has done (magnificently I might add) at least one. Switzer Bridge, in the townlet of Switzer (no traffic light), was destroyed in a flood in 1998 and an exact replica was constructed on the site. Judging from the foundation, it was wisely mounted higher than the original.  Elkhorn Creek, which would have been named Elkhorn River had it been one mile longer, flows under it.   There is a even newer two lane concrete bridge  nearby so you can paint from either side. It's a perfect spot for a plein aire painter to lollygag away a morning, creating yet another, personal, version of this cliche'.

Monday, May 21, 2012

There is Something to Plein Aire

"On Jonabell Farm"
8x10 Oil

This 8x10 Plein Aire was done on Jonabell Farm, Lexington, for a benefit auction for the Woodford County Humane Society.  As usual, I ignored the horses, barns, etc. and went for the water (and the shade). I could have snapped photos and returned to the studio. Staying the course and painting plein aire, I realized, let me understand clearly which trees were in foreground, which farther back, where the reflections were coming from, see clearly the dappled sunlight, in sort, to patiently study the scene. 

I did take reference photos over the course of the two plus hours, and when I looked at them later, I could not make out which trees were in front and which farther back, it was all a 2-dimentional jumble of leaves and branches. By completing the painting on site, I was able to indicate atmospheric perspective more or less correctly. 

While painting, other participating artists came up and we chatted and shared contact information, what else could you want. Cool Beans!!